ʽʽHi, I’m Benjamin Nunn – critic, gourmand and author of Ben Viveur. I like to eat and drink. And cook. And write.

You might have read me in an in-flight magazine, or a beer publication, but here on my own blog I'm liberated from the editorial shackles of others so anything goes.

I deal with real food and drink in the real world, aiming to create recipes that taste awesome, but which can be created by mere mortals without the need for tons of specialist equipment and a doctorate in food science. Likewise, I tend to review relaxed establishments that you might visit on a whim without having to sell your first-born, rather than hugely expensive restaurants and style bars in the middle of nowhere with a velvet rope barrier, a stringent dress code and a six-month waiting list!

There's plenty of robust opinion, commentary on the world of food and drink, and lots of swearing, so look away now if you're easily offended.

Otherwise, tuck your bib in, fill your glass and turbo-charge your tastebuds. We're going for a ride... Ben Appetit!

Friday, November 7, 2014

Bangin' Bangers - Supermarket sausages taste-tested

When I was a child, Bonfire Night - or Firework Night, as we called it - was my absolute favouritest night of the year.

Better than my birthday, better than Christmas. Better than that day I found all that porn on Mitcham Common.

We didn't have a bonfire and we didn't go in for any of that 'penny for the guy' twattery. But what we did have was fireworks. Not on some common land with hundreds of other people, but our own fireworks in our own garden. Bang.

As soon as they hit the shops, I'd spend all my pocket money and any other cash I could beg, borrow or blag on the biggest, best fireworks I could buy. Then, when the big night came, my brother and I would line them all up, carefully arranging the 'display' in order, with the sparklers first and the biggest fireworks saved until the end.

The post-fireworks meal was always the same too. Sausages. Usually with baked beans and a jacket potato, properly baked in the oven with a thick, blistery skin and loads of butter. Good times.

Sausagetastic times

These days, November 5th pretty much just passes me by. I might casually watch an organised display from the comfort of a pub garden tomorrow night, but it won't matter if I don't. I guess the excitable little boy grew up.

That's an awful lot of sausages there, Mr. Ben, Sir
Obviously I still like sausages though - who the fuck doesn't?!? - so I decided to mark the season by taste-testing a few of the premium bangers available these days to see which ones are best.

Happily, it also happens to be British Sausage Week at the moment, as well as being the 'Year of the Sausage' on the Chinese Calendar. OK, that last bit's not true.

Now, with so many sausages to pick from, I had to narrow it down if I wanted to eat anything else in the next couple of weeks, so I haven't bothered with anything at the cheaper, mankier end of the market - we all have a fairly good idea what they'd taste like, all bulked up with rusk, cartilege and polyfiller.

Equally I've decided to avoid the decadently flavoured varieties on this occasion. Many of these are of course extremely delicious, but it's hard to compare a port and venison objectively against a Toulouse sausage as the two are, by design, fundamentally different in flavour profile.

So, let's crack on. We've fucking shitloads of bangers to get through here...

1. Sainsbury's 'Taste the difference' Cumberland

I always used to think that a Cumberland sausage had to be all curled up like a Catherine Wheel (even if I'd draw the line at nailing it to the post at the end of the garden path and setting it ablaze) but these conventionally-shaped examples are far more common these days.

At 86% pork, these are meatier than a lot of mass-market bangers, but amongst the least porky in the contest. However, they're one of the herbiest contenders, with plenty of black pepper and parsley coming through.

And it's a good sausage. It's not as meaty or dense as some of its competitors, but that's not necessarily what sausageness is all about. It would certainly work well with a big pile of mustard mash and an onion gravy made with the copious juices.

2. Sainsbury's 'Taste the difference' Ultimate outdoor bred

A second contender from Lord Sainsbury, these tip the scales at 97% pork, which is about as meaty as a sausage can realistically be without it becoming a bland log of unseasoned pig.

They're certainly meaty sausages, firm and chewy with a slight offally edge, but not a lot in the way of herbs. Perhaps importantly, perhaps not, it's also the lowest calorie and lowest fat sausage in the test (138 cals and 10.5 grams of fat per banger).

'Ultimate' might be something of an overstatement, but it's a good, solid sausage, and, as it's a little dry, would work nicely in a casserole.

3. Tescos 'Finest' Traditional pork

Tescos aren't my favourite shop in the world, what with their penchant for buying pubs and closing them down, but they probably account for more sausage sales than anywhere else, so it would be churlish not to include one of their products.

These are the least salty of all the sausages on test (0.6g if you care about such things) and only the Sainburys Ultimate are lower in calories.

This is a Suffolk-style sausage with plenty of sage, though the coarsly chopped meat isn't as densely assembled as the other 97%ers. The skins are slightly oily, and the whole thing falls apart under a fork.

I'd enjoy a few of these squished into a sandwich with plenty of mustard, but taken on it's own, it's not the 'finest' sausage on the menu tonight.

4. Marks & Spencer British outdoor bred 97% pork

You can just imagine the commercial, can't you? 'this is not just a sausage, this is an M&S British outdoor bred 97% pork sausage...'

Plump and stocky, their appearance stands out, and the pedigree is impressive.

Seasoned with sea salt, white pepper, coriander and nutmeg, they're also free from gluten, which is unusual in the sausage world, but they have a higher fat content (16.5 grams) and a higher calorie count (189) than any other sausage here. It's also the only sausage to come out of the pack individually rather than in a nice long string.

So, not that good for a Punch and Judy show then, but the flavour profile is impressive, with the remaining 3% of ingredients an effective foil to the coarsely chopped pork. 

There's not quite as much herbiness as in the Cumberlands, but it's well balanced and has a satisfying shape, if such things are important to you.

5. The Black Farmer premium pork

Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones is an interesting chap. Desperately unlucky not to take Chippenham at the 2010 election, he's since concentrated on his Black Farmer range of meat products and sauces. 

Sizzle sizzle
All of which sounds like a typical rural Tory with business interests - except that he came over from Jamaica as a child, left school with no qualifications, got chucked out of the Army, and then started making sausages.

Fucking good sausages, as it happens.

If you're expecting the Black Farmer's Jamaican ancestry to come through in the form of Scotch Bonnets and jerk seasoning, you'll be disappointed as the flavour profile is actually perfectly balanced.

Like the M&S entry, the packaging proclaims them to be gluten-free, but on the fat and calorie count these are slightly 'healthier', and while 90% pork isn't the highest proportion here, it's still a firm and meaty sausage.

Nicely chewy with an agreeable texture, it's firm, solid and deeply satisfying. (Are you getting aroused?)

6. Porky Whites Premium Surrey pork

These look like big, chunky buggers, but at 82% are actually the least 'porky' on test, and also have the highest salt content, though in theory this should be tempered by the interesting addition of lemon and honey.

It was no surprise that the fattest sausage in the competition split tantalisingly in the pan and burst into a cascade of juicy saltiness in the mouth. (You're getting aroused aren't you?)

The skin went pleasantly crispy and the honey sweetness came through in the finish, but these couldn't make up for the lack of herbiness and meatiness compared to some of the other sausages. If I'm honest it's probably more of a breakfast sausage.

Amazingly, despite being the largest contender, they're actually a bit less calorific and quite a lot less fatsome than the M&S sausage.

But they're also not as tasty.


As we're only looking at the 'premium' end of the market, none of these sausages are bad at all, but the hot sizzling truth is that if you found a local butcher that fashion their own sausages on the premises to order, you could get something better than you'd find at the Supermarket.

That said, I'm confident that the child I left behind would be perfectly happy with any of these to go with his baked potato and beans on a crisp Firework Night.

None of them too fatty, none are too greasy, none are too rusky, and none contained bits of bone. All are, in their own ways, decent bangers.

And the winner? Well, the M&S contender is very strong, but it's just edged out by the Black Farmer - an excellent all-round sausage that perfectly balances meatiness and seasoning.

Good work, Wilfred!

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